Fires had been raging up and down the South Coast for close to a month. People were evacuated from Bawley Point and Tabourie Lake. Milton was hit. Michael did food and supply runs in his boat. We watched as the sky went red and black days before Christmas.
More fires broke out on New Years Eve. I watched, my mouth agape, as two angry plumes from the fires north and south of us joined together over Mollymook Beach.
And then, the power went out. Mobile reception became spotty. Internet was down. Rumours swirled around town like the ashes that rained down on us. Embers in our backyards. Homes had been lost. Whole streets obliterated. A girlfriend’s panicked text about her dad being trapped.
I packed my go bag and filled the bath with water.
Michael cooked bacon and eggs on the barbecue outside. Hakavai and I read books on the balcony. We watched as the fine grey smoke settled in on our beloved Mollymook Beach.
At a quarter to eight, the evening was quiet. Not a peaceful and serene quiet, but an eerie quiet. An apocalyptic quiet. No one on their balconies drinking beers. No music blaring from our neighbours next door, or from the houses across the street. No revellers preparing to celebrate the new year. And it was dark. No power. No lights.
First of all: I’m sorry that I haven’t been more proactive in this time.
It’s been a tough few weeks for me emotionally. I’ve had to focus on not letting my emotions and own experiences get the better of me. I’ve tried to not let the panic genie out of the bottle (because once that genie’s out, you’ve got zero chance of squashing it back in). And, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve done 10 marathons. And we can’t relax because it’s only the start of summer, and it’s not over yet. So just like in a marathon, I’ve realised I have to pace myself.
A lot of things have been tough. Being 8 months pregnant with a toddler, I’ve felt as useful as tits on a bull. I’ve had recurring nightmares about running through flames with my son in my arms. It’s been difficult to sleep, eat or think and all I’ve really wanted to do is tap out, put my head in the sand and pretend that nothing is going on.
I thought about leaving our small town of Ulladulla multiple times. Why didn’t I? People were stuck in their cars for hours. I saw terrifying footage of 30 metre high flames on the side of the highway at Sussex Inlet (a town just north of us and blocking the way out). And travelling south was like travelling into the jaws of the dragon.
When I found out friends were planning on defending their property I felt like shaking them. “You have no idea!!!” I wanted to scream. You have no idea that a fire sounds like a thousand road trains coming towards you. You have no idea how hot it feels, and that you will watch your skin bubble before your very eyes. You have no idea that the smoke will feel like it’s invading every single one of your pores. And you have no idea that in those last few seconds where it’s almost upon you that you will KNOW that you are about to die.
At the same time, I’ve felt like it’s not my place to flip out when people all around me have lost everything. I’m lucky – my family and I are safe and we haven’t lost anything.
Friends have lost homes, precious belongings. Lives have been lost.
And once “this” is all over, it won’t be all over for many of the local businesses in fire-ravaged towns. A lot of these places (like my home town in Mollymook, and Kangaroo Island, Mallacoota, Eden etc) rely on the tourist dollar for their very survival. I’ve been motivated by Tegan Webber’s #GoWithEmptyEskies campaign and by the legends at @buyfromthebush.
And so this is what I’m doing. If you want to buy something (now, or in the future), check out @spendwiththem. Spend your money with the businesses in fire affected communities who need it. They need you. We need you.
This is a way to put money directly in the pockets of the people and communities who need it the most, and need it NOW.
Long after the threat is over and the choppers stop flying overhead. Long after summer ends and the wail of sirens ceases in the streets.
Help them rebuild. Make them feel heard. Spend with them.
And, if you’re a business in a fire-affected town, hit us up at @spendwiththem to be featured.
Much love to all of you, donating, spending, and doing everything you can. I’m blown away.